I have been an accounting marketing professional for many years and I have seen the evolution of the marketing role evolve into what it is today. I remember beginning my career right out of college and the focus centered around brochures, events, and making everything visually look presentable. There was no talk about business development or technology, and strategy was not a common term that was used. Those were the days of putting out fires and implementing the latest project request that probably did not have a strategic marketing plan or budget to support it.
To understand the big picture of how the accounting marketing professional role has evolved, I reached out to my fellow AAM friends to see how they feel their role has changed over time. I am sure we can all relate to some, if not all, of the experiences of each professional.
In the past, marketing professionals found themselves doing projects based on availability and whoever had the lightest load. These days, many marketing departments are more structured with defined roles. Rather than being “generalists”, marketing teams today have specific roles such as a content writer, graphic designer or events coordinator. Crystal Mapp, Marketing Director at KPM, has been in the accounting marketing industry for more than 10 years and has seen the evolution from generalist to specialist firsthand. “In larger firms, you must be keenly aware of all the disciplines to strategically manage your team; in smaller firms, you need to have a large skill-set and know when to outsource,” says Mapp. To remain relevant, a lot of on the job training is necessary. “Educating your management team on realistic goals and expectations based on your team’s skill set and availability is imperative. Just like the accountants can’t have knowledge in every area, neither can you,” added Mapp.
Caitlin Lacher, Marketing Manager at Postlethwaite & Netterville, has seen her department become more specialized as well. This shift has led partners to rely on their marketing department when they are experiencing challenges. “Partners used to come to us to implement. Now they are coming to Marketing to find a solution,” says Lacher.
Evolution of Strategic Plans for the Accounting Marketing Professional
Gone are the days of doing a project because someone has a great idea or jumping on the latest craze. Today, firms are being more strategic about how they spend their dollars, and there are marketing plans to support the firm’s growth goals. Being more strategic has elevated the marketing role to be an integral part of the firm and has often provided a seat at the table. Becca Davis, Director of Practice Growth at Rea & Associates, Inc., has been in the industry for 14 years and she has personally seen the role of marketers become much more strategic. “The most progressive firms view our role beyond just ‘making things pretty’ and party-planning,” said Davis. “We play an essential role within firms because of our ability to think strategically and identify creative ways to enhance our firms’ growth. More and more marketers are reaching partner level in their firms, which is a testament to the value we can bring. I think AAM has played a huge role in this – not only does AAM offer us the resources we need to continually elevate our role, but it also gives us access to other professionals to network with and learn from.”
When I started in the profession, I’d never heard of a business development professional in the accounting industry. As the years went on, I started to hear of firms hiring business development professionals. Some would say those firms were crazy, others thought they were forward-thinking. Either way, as time continued to pass, more and more firms started hiring for BD or incorporating BD practices that were aligned with their specific goals.
If you are like me and don’t have a business development professional at your firm, you probably find yourself at least dabbling in business development, if not completely spearheading your firm’s business development efforts. Having one person be in charge of both marketing and business development can cause confusion among your Firm leaders as to what the difference is. “Oftentimes, the partners see business development and marketing as one function,” said Art Kuesel, President of Kuesel Consulting. “When a firm doesn’t have a full-time business development professional, some aspects of business development can fall to the marketing leader. From individual coaching to participating on pursuits, I have seen a great deal of cross-over in the last several years.”
Technology Evolution for the Accounting Marketing Professional
Not only are accounting marketers having a hand in business development, but they also must be knowledgeable about technology. At Postlethwaite & Netterville, the marketing team implemented and owns the CRM, as well as a software they developed that manages their marketing materials to make the professional’s lives easier. “As a marketing professional you need to be technologically savvy in order to be strategic and a forward thinker,” said Lacher.
Technology is a major player when it comes to developing your firm’s strategic marketing plan. When I first began my career, we used basic Microsoft products as well as a graphic design program, but now I find myself staying on top of the latest software tools to see how it could benefit our firm and fit with our strategic plan to move us forward. “As the world of marketing automation and technology continues to grow exponentially, the need to stay up-to-date on software and tools has accelerated,” said Kuesel. “Given that the vast majority of these tools were not designed to apply to professional services marketing, a considerable effort must be placed to understand if or how they could apply to our world.”
Lindsay Suelmann, Director of Marketing at Anders feels that having a good understanding of the marketing technology stack has always been an important part of her role, but the strategy behind the stack has changed immensely. “There are so many tools that can help a marketing department work smarter and achieve so much more than we’ve ever seen before,” said Suelmann. “I spend a lot of my time working with our marketing team, and others in the firm, to understand how we can gain efficiencies and help them do more. An integrated and successful marketing technology stack today plays a big role in that success.”
Marketing professionals might find themselves implementing projects that indirectly affect the growth of the firm but are not specifically marketing tasks. At Postlethwaite & Netterville they implemented an employee engagement survey and the results showed deficiencies, so the marketing director took on the task of fixing the problem internally. “It sounds like it’s not marketing,” Lacher added. “But it is indirectly, because it will show up in client work and prospect pursuits if the employees are not satisfied – and that will affect the firm’s growth.”
The accounting marketing professional role will continue to change as the evolution of the industry continues. Marketing is an ever-growing industry in itself. The more professionals recognize the strengths these roles bring to the table, the more both teams can benefit by building off each other. I am excited to see where it takes all of us.